JUNEAU – The telehealth access Alaskans relied on during the pandemic has been made permanent after Rep. Ivy Spohnholz’s House Bill 265 was signed into law by the governor today. HB 265 eliminates unnecessary administrative burden on providers and gives health care providers licensed in the state the option to deliver care via telehealth without an in-person visit when appropriate. The law also requires parity for Medicaid reimbursement rates of all services delivered via telehealth, supporting innovation in the health care sector and ensuring that all Alaskans have access to care.
“These last two years have shown us the benefits of telehealth,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D – Anchorage). “More access to care and cost savings for both Alaskans and the state make it clear why patients and providers alike are excited to continue the expansion of telehealth. I’m grateful for the bipartisan legislative and widespread community support for HB 265.”
A few real-world examples of how the new law will help Alaskans:
· Patients and the State of Alaska will save costs related to unnecessary medical travel.
· Patients will have the ability to consult their providers via telephone which increases access to care in rural Alaska, where broadband access is limited, and for people with limited technical skills.
· Residents in rural Alaska and other underserved areas have increased access to health care services, including mental health services and necessary prescriptions.
· An Alaska physician wants their cancer patient to learn about other treatment options not available in Alaska. Decisions can be made faster with quicker access to information.
· Physician is able to get their cancer patient an “over-read” of a scan. This allows a patient visit with an expert in a particular cancer type to give an interpretation of scans and inform next steps in treatment or diagnostics to pursue locally or arrange for travel only if necessary.
· Some specialized tests, like the PSMA CT scan for early diagnosis of metastatic prostate cancer, are only available Outside. With telehealth first, a patient can determine if they are a candidate for such tests and decide whether they want to pursue travel for the test or not. Patients can also discuss results and further treatment options with Outside physicians after they get back home.
· Telehealth visits with comprehensive cancer centers can determine if a patient is a candidate for clinical trials only available Outside.
· Telehealth allows cancer patients with complex cases the opportunity to determine treatment plans by a medical team including their local physicians and experts from regional cancer centers Outside, all working together. The patient will have the ability to visit with whichever member of their care team is needed instead of a disjointed approach based on travel schedules.
Statements from stakeholders:
“AARP Alaska is very pleased to have helped see HB265 through to passage. Maintaining the option to use telehealth without barriers will continue to benefit elders by eliminating potential exposure to infections, reducing transportation barriers, bridging gaps in specialty care, helping people live in their homes and communities as independently as possible, and supporting family caregivers in their loved ones’ healthcare needs.”
– Marge Stoneking, Advocacy Director, AARP Alaska
“The Alaska Native Health Board fully supported House Bill 265 and is grateful to see the bill signed into law. Telehealth has proven to be a critical point of health care access for rural communities in the Alaska Tribal Health System, improving outcomes and follow up care for patients. This legislation ensures continued access and lifesaving care into the future. Strengthened telehealth services allow health care professionals to work together to provide quality care across the state.”
– Alberta Unok, President/CEO, Alaska Native Health Board
“The Alaska State Medical Association is pleased to support this update in telehealth policy, safety and access to healthcare in Alaska. It was a pleasure working with a diverse group of supporters in the broad effort to improve care to all Alaska patients.”
– Pam Ventgen, Executive Director, Alaska State Medical Association
“Alaska’s healthcare system was tested by the pandemic. Collaboration and creativity defined our response as facilities, providers, community partners, and the State banded together to provide healthcare to Alaskans in their greatest time of need. Facing some of our darkest days, opportunities for innovation and ingenuity emerged, and healthcare delivery was reimagined. One such example is the expansion of telehealth. Overnight, we adopted readily available technology and extended access to providers and services, unleashing the ability for Alaskans to receive care. Signing HB 265 into law represents another bold step forward for healthcare delivery as we make telehealth best practices a permanent part of Alaska’s continuum of care. The Alaska Hospital & Healthcare Association thanks Representative Spohnholz, Governor Dunleavy, Commissioner Crum, and all the leaders working together to advance healthcare for Alaska.”
– Jared C. Kosin, JD, MBA, President & CEO, Alaska Hospital & Healthcare Association
“Patients sometimes postpone preventative care, medication refills and early interventions due to transportation issues, weather or lack of time, but we know that these factors can be mitigated when robust telemedicine services are available. We are grateful to see this legislation pass and become law because better access to telemedicine equates to better access to healthcare, period.”
– Elizabeth Ripley, President and CEO, Mat-Su Health Foundation
“Providence Alaska is working to be a catalyst of change within health care and to work to reduce costs while improving health outcomes. Telehealth has proven to be safe and effective, opening access to care for more Alaskans and empowering patients to make informed health care decisions. Providing care during a pandemic has been challenging, but telehealth remains a bright spot of best practices that we can use to better care for our communities. As restrictions on telehealth were temporarily lifted, Providence was able to adapt care delivery and serve even more Alaskans closer to home. Today we celebrate that these flexibilities have been made permanent and will benefit generations to come. Once signed into law, HB 265 will remove barriers and improve health equity, strengthen patient relationships, and incentivize the most effective care settings. We thank the Alaska Legislature, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, Sen. David Wilson, our health care and advocacy partners, and Governor Dunleavy for signing this important and transformative bill into law.”
– Preston M Simmons, DSc., FACHE, Chief Executive, Providence Alaska
“The Alaska Behavioral Health Association appreciates the bill sponsors, supporters, healthcare providers, and community members who worked tirelessly on HB265. This bill improves access to behavioral health services and supports across Alaska by removing regulatory restrictions, and offers clients and their healthcare providers more options to choose from to best meet their behavioral healthcare needs.”
– Sherrie Hinshaw, Interim CEO, Alaska Behavioral Health Association
“The impact of the new telehealth law on Alaska’s cancer patients and their doctors will be felt immediately and with a tremendous sense of relief. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network is grateful for the work of the bill sponsors and the wide-ranging coalition that crafted the law. The final provision added to the bill supports Alaskans’ access to the nation’s top medical experts in coordination with local doctors who know their patients best. This provision enables faster access to information and advice, the best opportunity for collaboration, and the least interruption to daily life. Alaska doctors and patients can move quickly in getting expert assessments and support. It means a patient doesn’t have to arrange transportation, childcare, and time off work to fly out of state for what may be a 20-minute conversation. Patients can save that effort for a time when diagnostics or treatments are only available Outside.”
– Emily Nenon, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network